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June 20, 2013

Radio club to reach global audience

JOHNSTOWN — Johnstown area amateur radio operators are to broadcast around the world Saturday and Sunday, but they won’t be transmitting popular tunes.

The Cambria Radio Club plans to participate in the annual Field Day, when licensed amateur radio operators gather to test their equipment, emergency coordinator and member Mike Sakmar said.

The two-day test will be held at the New Germany Grove Hall along New Germany Road in Summerhill.

“We set up our equipment Friday night, and we start broadcasting on Saturday at 2 p.m.,” Sakmar said. “We have food and soft drinks, and we set up and camp overnight.”

The event has been celebrated annually since 1934, when the American Radio Relay League conducted its first Field Day, league spokesman Sean Kutzko said.

“It gave stations that wanted to operate in the field a chance to test their equipment,” he said, adding that operators from all American states, territories and Canadian provinces participate.

Amateur radio operators, also known as hams – a name originally used as a derogatory term – work to keep the public informed in emergency situations, Sakmar said.

“If the communication in the general public would fail, we as amateurs would step in,” Sakmar said. “Say we get information about a tornado warning ... I get the ball rolling. We relay information to the National Weather Service. They depend on us saying, ‘Well, this is what we see.’ ”

The same process could be used for other types of disasters and civil defense issues, he said.

Sakmar said he and other amateurs relay information through repeater stations, where it is then sent out for mass consumption.

“We go through local repeaters which are relay stations usually located on a mountain top. They transmit at about 100 watts over a large area,” he said.

“There is a repeater located in Industrial Park. From there, you can talk to people in Florida, England and sometimes Australia.”

While Sakmar said he normally goes by the name Mike, many may know him as N3SSD, his call sign when he is transmitting.

A specific call sign is given

to each licensed radio operator and acts as a way for them to

be identified while broadcasting.

“That call sign is unique to me,” Sakmar said. “No one else in the world has that.”

Sakmar said he has participated in Field Day off and on since 1994, but this is the second year his club is partnering with the Horseshoe Amateur Radio Club, based in Altoona, to host the event.

Participation is not limited to members of the two clubs, he said.

“This is a multi-event. If you’re a member of any club and you’re a licensed radio operator, you can come participate, and it’s open to the general public,” Sakmar said. “They can come see what we do as amateurs, too.”

Licensed operators who can’t make it to Summerhill can still participate, he said: “They can still operate and participate in Field Day from their own homes or their cars.”

Transmission is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Saturday and continue until 5 p.m. Sunday.

Kutzko said the event, while important, is supposed to be fun, and added that he predicts many amateur operators around the country will participate.

“It is an extremely fun and informative activity, and it is also a service to the community,” Kutzko said.

“We have more ham radio licenses than any time before – over 700,000. That’s the highest number ever.”

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